A New Heart and a New Spirit

**The audio for this sermon may be found here:https://www.spreaker.com/user/trinitystjohn/2016-05-08-exaudi-sermon**

Text: Ezekiel 36:22-28

Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations…I will sprinkle clean water on you…and I will give you a new heart.” Such were the words of the Lord God that Ezekiel preached beside the Chebar canal in southern Babylon to anyone who would listen. The nation of Israel was his audience, which, during his ministry, was carried off into exile in a number of waves and ultimately destroyed through the Fall of Jerusalem. The ones standing immediately before him were the ones carried off to Babylon early in the exile and they had just heard that Jerusalem had indeed fallen. The walls were torn down and the temple destroyed. What hope could be left?

It is good that our fathers in the faith placed this text here in the lectionary, the Sunday between the Ascension and Pentecost. We heard from Jesus in the Gospel how the world will react after His Ascension. Some will claim to be worshipping God by killing Jesus’ disciples. St. Peter likewise reminded us in our Epistle not to be surprised when faced with trial and tribulation. In the Collect of the Day we prayed to our ascended Lord Jesus that He would not leave us without consolation, but send us His Holy Spirit. That is what God tells Ezekiel to prophesy about in our Old Testament text. God promised that He would do something marvelous. Even to those poor, dejected exiles, and to us in our suffering, God promised that He was actively at work to vindicate His name and remove their plight. From our text we’ll learn about God’s work, including the work of His Son. Today we’ll especially celebrate His work in Holy Baptism, for it is in the washing of Holy Baptism that God gives us the new heart and Spirit that He promises in our text.

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Before we go any further, we should talk a little bit about what’s going on in our text. Long story, short: Israel is in exile in Babylon. Now for the longer story: When we study the Old Testament we usually divide it up into two categories, the Law and the Prophets. We can also divide the Prophets into two categories, the Major and Minor Prophets. The Major Prophets are called that because their writings are longer (try reading the 66 chapters of Isaiah), the Minor because they’re shorter. Ezekiel is one of the Major Prophets with Isaiah and Jeremiah. The Fall of Jerusalem happened in 587 B.C. Isaiah prophesied about 100 years earlier. Jeremiah and Ezekiel preached at the same time around, during, and (in Ezekiel’s case) after the Fall of Jerusalem – Jeremiah in Jerusalem, and Ezekiel in Babylon.

Ezekiel prophesied to a people displaced and removed from their homeland. God gave the land of Israel to His chosen nation as gift promised to Abraham, but now they have been driven out of it because of their sinfulness. For generations God spoke to His people through the prophets that Jerusalem would fall unless they repent of their sin and be forgiven. Remember when God sent Jonah to Nineveh with that same message? Nineveh was a pagan city, and they repented and believed. But Jerusalem, the city of God, rejected Him. Instead of living in faithfulness to God and love toward one another, the people were altogether corrupt, hating each other and being hated in return, cheating everyone they could, worshipping false gods, and putting themselves first in all things. Even when they did come to worship God, it was tainted by sin and false pretense. God said through the mouth of Isaiah, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”

But, now, God says in our text, this is all going to stop. Israel’s uncleanness, its disregard for God and His Word led to the Fall of Jerusalem and the Exile – but even then it didn’t stop. The Fall was meant to lead to repentance, but instead, God’s name continued to be profaned. The nations surrounding Israel gloated at their demise rather than repent of their own sinfulness. And Israel, instead of being sorry for their sin, just continued to sin in Babylon. But now God has had enough. He is going to do something radical. He’s going to do something amazing to purify Israel from their iniquity and vindicate His name among the nations. What is He going to do? He’s going to send His Son. That’s what God is talking about in our text. Already His plan is in motion, just as He promised to Adam and Eve to send them a savior. This Savior would be the Son of God who would bear the weight of the world’s sin on the cross to redeem us from our guilt. And, not because we are particularly special or good or merit salvation, but as God says, “It is not for your sake…but for the sake of My Holy Name.”

In our text we get the joyous opportunity to touch on one of the distinctives of our Lutheran faith. We call them the Solas: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura. In our text we get a beautiful picture of God’s grace. Even in the mire of Israel’s iniquity, even in the despair of the exile – the just consequence of their sin – God promises to save. He promises to purify them from their sin and rescue them from death, not through any works of their own, but by His grace alone. God also promises in our text to save us and to cleanse us from our iniquity, and in fact He has through the washing of Holy Baptism.

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God says these beautiful words in our text, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove your heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you.” In the midst of their iniquity and sinfulness, their depravity and darkness, God promised to sprinkle His people with water, and this water will make them clean. That is what Baptism does. You might remember this question from the Small Catechism. “What Benefits Does Baptism Give? It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.”

God promised to His people our text that He would sprinkle them with water and make them clean. In doing so He would remove their callous hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. And, this is what makes our text fitting for this Sunday, the Sunday after the Ascension. As He ascended into heaven, Jesus promised to put His Holy Spirit within His people. This happens in Holy Baptism when the Triune God puts to death the sinful nature within us and makes us new creations. In Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ’s death and burial, so that we too die to sin and rise to righteousness.

In our text from Ezekiel God promised to His people that He was going to vindicate His name. No longer would Israel’s sinfulness be in the spotlight. Instead, God is going to wash it away. He did this by sending His Son Jesus to die for the sin of the world, both for Israel in Ezekiel’s time and for us now. Then, in Holy Baptism, washes us clean. He rips out our hearts of stone and gives us beating hearts of flesh. In Baptism He gives us each His Holy Spirit. And what does the Holy Spirit do? Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “When the Helper comes…He will bear witness about me.” That is, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to make us Christians through the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments, and to keep us Christians through the same. And, having received a new heart of flesh and God’s Holy Spirit, we are led outside of ourselves.

In the washing of Holy Baptism, we are made new creations. We no longer live seeking to serve our own flesh and passions, but we live for those around us, serving those in need in response to the love we receive from Christ. That is what St. Peter exhorts us to do. This is how he said it, “Keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.”

This week we stand with the Holy Apostles. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has ascended into heaven to be with us always and everywhere. Two thousand years ago the Apostles waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and we likewise are expecting Christ’s return. In our texts this week we learn about how God operates. He spoke through Ezekiel that He was going to vindicate His name and remove the iniquity of His people. He did this by sending His Son to die for the forgiveness of our sins, which He gives to us by grace alone. Then, in Holy Baptism He gives us clean hearts of flesh and puts His Holy Spirit within us. May He ever continue to grant us His Holy Spirit that we be led to live in love toward Him and our neighbor.

The Victory that Overcomes the World

Text: 1 John 5:4-10

I’ve never been much of a winner in my life. Granted, I don’t have a very competitive personality. But when I do compete, I very seldomly win. I don’t think it’s because I’m particularly bad at the things I do. It’s just that, no matter how much I practice, there always seems to be someone better equipped or more skilled than me. Maybe you’ve felt this way. I think my most celebrated victories are in the virtual world of video games or the crowning achievement that is finishing Easter leftovers. But even in that, there’s always someone that can pack in more food than me, both in larger amounts and less time.

The title for the Sunday after Easter is Quasimodogeniti, and it comes from the Introit. It means, “As newborn infants.” Such were the words of St. Peter in his first epistle, “As newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” This text was placed here by our fathers in the faith long ago as part of the continued instruction of confirmation students. In the ancient Church confirmation was three years long, ending on the Vigil of Easter (Saturday evening). There the confirmation students would be baptized and receive the Lord’s Supper for first time. In the Introit for the next Sunday (today) the newly confirmed Christians are encouraged to continue learning God’s Word, which is the pure spiritual milk we all need.

Our text today is from St. John’s first epistle, especially verse 4, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” John writes this to the churches of Asia Minor after his return from exile to encourage them in the faith. In some ways they had become discouraged by the world around them that was so filled with evil and ungodliness. They had lost sight of Christ’s Easter victory, the resurrection from the dead. St. John encouraged his congregation and us that the resurrection is not just for Jesus, but for us as well. His resurrection becomes our own. Through faith in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, we also are victorious over the world and we have the confidence of eternal life.

St. John writes to his beloved flock in a post-Easter world about their new status in life: victorious. Through Christ’s death their sins were forgiven and by His resurrection life and immortality were restored to mankind. The Church celebrated this fact. The letters of St. John, we call them First, Second, and Third, were all likely written during the end of his long career as pastor in Ephesus. By this time the Christian Church had existed for more than fifty years, gathering every Sunday for the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins. The post-Easter Church was a vibrant and lively place, even amidst their surroundings.

St. John wrote in a post-Easter world. Post-Easter, in the sense the resurrection of Christ was a present reality for them. John was an eyewitness of the fact, as were some others who were still alive. But the Church existed even then in a world that was totally and completely opposed to the Christian faith. We believe that John spent most of his career in Ephesus, except for his exile during the reign of Emperor Domitian. Ephesus a short time after that was the third-largest city in the empire. There were about 250k in this seat of Roman power. In addition to being an imperial city, Ephesus was also a center of pagan worship. The principal god of Ephesus was Artemis. You can read in Acts 19 of the riot that happened while St. Paul was preaching there. Everyone yelled back and forth for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Around this time also emperor worship was gaining steam. It consisted of parades, festivals, and public worship. There was almost no aspect of life that was not affected by the false gods of Ephesus, and all of it was opposed to the Church. The Ephesians could have very easily felt like they weren’t winning.

It’s easy for us to feel the same way. We’re not immune or oblivious to the context we live in. The Christian faith is blasted in the media and on social media. We’re told that our faith is ignorant and harmful. In some areas adoption agencies will not place children in the care of parents who hold to certain core Christian beliefs. The only way that the Christian faith is allowed is when Christ is removed. This is the faith that is comfortably touted from political podiums, “Do unto other as you would have done unto you.” Though Jesus did say that, when left to stand apart from the context, it works against our Christian witness. “Do not be surprised, brothers, when the world hates you,” St. John says. He echoes the words of Christ, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

Sometimes, though, it’s not the world that hates us and robs of the victory in Christ. It’s easy to turn off the TV, ignore the internet, change the dial. Our heart is also a problem. That is the devil’s target: your heart. He wages every war and battle he can to steal the hope we have in Christ from us. He’ll do this by tempting you to doubt God’s Word: to doubt it about Jesus, to doubt the faith of the Church, and especially, to doubt the forgiveness we have in Christ. The truth is that Christ died for every single sin. There is no sin that Christ did not die for. Murder, theft, adultery, homosexuality, alcoholism, abortion. These are all sins, but sins that Christ died to forgive. He offers that forgiveness freely by His grace through faith. The devil will try to tell you that there are sins that Jesus didn’t die for, and if He didn’t die for those sins, how can I be sure that He died for mine? Over against these things: the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, St. John writes, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”

Everyone who believes in Jesus has been born of God and everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. How? By faith. By faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins we receive victory over sin, death, and the devil. We have this confidence for a few reasons. First, Jesus. The text says, “This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by water only but by the water and the blood.” That sentence is a little confusing. John is writing, in part, against those who had infiltrated the Church and were claiming that Jesus only appeared to be human. They taught that Jesus was a spirit being and didn’t actually die on the cross, and other variations on that.

No, St. John says, our confidence is based on the fact that Jesus came by both the water of His Baptism and the blood of the cross. At His Baptism the Spirit descended in the form of a dove and the Father spoke from heaven that Jesus is His Son. The Baptist proclaimed that Jesus is the Lamb of God come to bear the sins of the world, and that is what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus came by water, being baptized for the repentance of our sins, and then He paid for them as a ransom by the shedding of His blood on the cross. This the first reason for our confidence.

The second reason we can claim victory over death and the devil is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was in the Upper Room with His Disciples on the night He was betrayed, He promised to send them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth whom, Jesus said, would reveal to the Disciples all truth. What was the truth the Spirit revealed? Jesus! Jesus is the Son of God who died in accordance with the Scriptures for the sins of the world, and who broke the bars of death by bursting forth from the grave. The Spirit bore witness to the Disciples and through their Word. In the same way, He continues to bear witness even today. He works through the preaching of the Gospel to comfort our hearts. He works through Baptism to bring us the gift of faith and the forgiveness of sins. He works through the Lord’s Supper strengthening that faith and the hope we have in the resurrection.

The third reason that we can be confident of the victory we have in Christ is the testimony of God the Father Himself. We already mentioned the voice from heaven at Jesus’ Baptism. The same voice spoke again at the Transfiguration that Jesus is His Son. He is the one who would bear the sins of the world and win us forgiveness. St. John says, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.” Meaning, if we believe something because a man tells us, how much more should we believe something when God tells us. And what has God told us? He has given us eternal life, and that life is in Jesus.

St. John closes his first epistle with these words, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” In other words, St. John writes to assure us that we have the victory in Jesus Christ. It’s easy to be discouraged by the world that hates us, and by the devil who causes our hearts to doubt. But, in these things we are more than conquerors. Christ has been raised from the dead. Death no longer has dominion over Him or over us. In Christ we are more the conquerors, we are victorious and we will live forever with Him in the eternal glory of heaven.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Text: Matthew 17:1-8

The theology of the cross is one of the main things I love about Lutheranism. The theology of the cross says that the depth of God’s for us is not found primarily in the high points of life, such as wealth or comfort – things that are temporary. Instead, it is found in the humility, shame, and suffering of the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus teaches us this in John 14 when Philip asked Him to show them the Father. He responded that he who has Jesus has seen the Father. Jesus was teaching His disciples about His suffering and death for the forgiveness of sins. He who has seen the Son of Man dying on the cross for the sins of the world has seen the love that God has for us. Martin Luther once wrote, “True theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ.”

The phrase, “theology of the cross,” comes from one of Luther’s writings. Luther found himself in hot water after posting the 95 Theses. He was branded a heretic; and, though not excommunicated yet, Pope Leo X moved to silence him early on. He sent word down the line until it reached Luther’s superior, Johann von Staupitz. But, instead of silencing of Luther, Staupitz invited him to speak, in order to convince others to align themselves with Luther’s cause. In the midst of this Luther wrote one his most famous passages: “He deserves to be called a theologian…who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.”

What Luther means is this: the love, grace, and mercy of God are shown to us – above all other things – in the suffering and cross of Christ. That is what the Transfiguration of Jesus is all about. In His Transfiguration we receive a glimpse of Jesus‘ heavenly glory, a foretaste of what awaits us in the life to come. But this glory, which Christ will share with us, only comes through the suffering of the cross. At the Transfiguration, Jesus gives us a glimpse of His resurrected glory, which He shares with His Church, but it comes only as the fruit of His cross.

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The text from St. Matthew’s Gospel begins, “After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” St. Matthew writes that the Transfiguration happens six days after something. The context of this passage is that Jesus and the Disciples are traveling south from Caesarea Philippi, up toward Jerusalem. Caesarea Philippi was a Gentile area, but there St. Peter gave the great confession of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” From that moment on, Jesus began to show the Disciples what being the Messiah meant. Just before our text, Jesus explained for the first time that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day rise from dead. He is the gloriously majestic Son of God, but His glory is wrapped in the suffering and shame of the cross.

And just as Jesus’ life was full of suffering, so are the lives of His followers. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The life of a Christian is thus a hard one. After we are washed by the blood of Christ, we are led by the Holy Spirit to deny ourselves, to deny the sinful wants and desires of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. We carry the cross of Christ, which is foolishness to the world, upon our shoulders, around our necks, and in our hearts. We do this because, now that we have been crucified with Christ, we no longer live; Christ lives within us.

After teaching the Disciples this, Jesus took three up the mountain with Him and was transfigured before them. His face shined like the sun and His clothes were as bright as light itself. We see a picture of the glory that awaits the Church. We see the glory that Jesus had with the Father and the Holy Spirit before all time, which He will share with us – but only after His crucifixion. The Transfiguration confirms that what Jesus has been saying all along about His suffering and death, and about the Christian life of self-denial, is true. Moses and Elijah also bear witness to this. Moses represents both the Law and the Prophets, which speak about Jesus. Elijah’s presence likewise confirms the promises which God has made of old. Notice that neither Moses nor Elijah are dead. In fact, they’re very much alive. So shall we be in the resurrection, for God is not god of the dead, but the living.

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But then, St. Peter interrupts. “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Perhaps as a representative of the group, Peter interrupts the scene – just like he did before when Jesus explained that He was going to be rejected, suffer, and die. It didn’t suit Peter’s sensibilities for Jesus to suffer, be rejected, die, and rise again – even if it were the forgiveness of sins – because that means he would have to suffer as well. Peter’s desire to remain on the mount of the Transfiguration is quite understandable, and in some ways is good, right, and salutary. Though, if they remained on the mountain as Peter desired, that would be a problem. Then Jesus wouldn’t be going to the cross as payment for our sins.

Peter proves St. Paul to be right when he says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” The idea that the suffering of Christ is where we see the love of God flies against every fiber of the Old Adam within us. The idea that, because we are united with Christ in Baptism, we will also suffer in this life and be hated by the world, all the while striving to deny our own sinful passions, is absurd to natural reason.

Like Peter we sometimes get glimpses of Jesus’ glory: the baptisms of our children and grandchildren, their confirmations, in the sacrament of the altar, in those times where we see prayers answered before our very eyes. But life, unfortunately, isn’t all glory; there are also the crosses we bear. We trudge through our daily lives. We struggle to teach our children the faith, knowing that the world will do everything it can to rip it from them and us. We are hated by the world for actually believing Christ and His Word. But, the suffering of Christ means that He is with us. Last week we talked about how Christ became united with us in Baptism. He is united with us and we with Him, as closely as a vine with its branches, even (and especially) in the suffering of this life. As St. Paul wrote, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

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While [Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” The words spoken by the Father at Jesus’ Baptism are echoed here at the Transfiguration. But, now they have something added to them. Jesus is God’s Son; we’re supposed to listen to Him. That’s an added emphasis for Peter, the Disciples, and us. We are to listen to Jesus – not the devil, not the world, and not our own sinful flesh. All of those want us to strive after the good life, the comfortable life. They want us to do anything other than look at the cross and remember our Baptism. Looking at the cross means remembering that in Baptism we are united with Jesus in His suffering and death. And quite frankly, that’s not always so fun. It means we are going to struggle in this life. We’re never going to be perfect. We’ll never be rid of our sin. We will never reach a point where we are not wrestling with our many temptations.

But, being united with Christ doesn’t just mean we are united with Him; He is united with us. It means that, in those times where you just can’t take another day, where life is killing you, where your heart just says, “No more,” Jesus is there. He is with you. He bore your sins on the cross; He suffered for you, to win for you the forgiveness of sins. Through the Word and Sacraments, He continually makes good on His promise to be with you always. Then, when this life is finally over, glory begins. Jesus was Transfigured to assure us of the truth and as a preview of the glory to come. This glory, though, only comes through suffering. That’s how it was for Jesus – He stepped down from His eternal throne, to suffer, die and rise for you – and that’s how it will be for us.

St. Peter wrote in our Epistle text, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” In the Transfiguration we receive a glimpse of Jesus’ resurrected glory, glory that He will share with us in the resurrection, but it comes only after the cross. Peter teaches us to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place. We are theologians of the cross. We know that without the cross, there can be no glory. Without the cross, there can be no forgiveness. But, in the cross of Christ we do glory and to us it a shining beacon in this dark world. It shows us that nothing in heaven or earth, not even death itself can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This love will be with us always, all suffering life long, until we are raised anew to live in the glory of Christ at His coming.

 

Because He First Loved Us

Text: 1 John 4:7-21

This week was St. John’s vacation Bible School. The title was Camp Discovery: Jesus at Work through Us. Each day the children learned about the work of Christ through His Word and Sacraments. They learned that Jesus gives them courage and wisdom, that He saves them through faith and then leads them to share His love by serving others. The theme verse for the week and our text today is from 1 John 4, “We love because he first loved us.”[1]

This text was the Epistle reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, but it is profitable for us for it to come up again today. In 1 John 4, the apostle exhorts his beloved fellow Christians to test the spirits, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. Those that confess that Jesus has come in the flesh are from God, and those that don’t are not of God. They may rage against us, but St. John assures us, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”[2] Therefore, since those who have faith in Jesus overcome the world, the apostle then exhorts us as to what sort of people we have been called to be.

I.

St. John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[3] Before we can begin talking about anything, we must start with the source of our life: our Triune God. Last week on Trinity Sunday we took a few minutes to confess our faith in the One God in Three Persons. We believe from Scripture that God exists eternally as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today we learn what is the epitome, the essence of God Himself: love.

John writes that love is from God because God is love. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always appear that way. That’s not because God isn’t always love, but because our sinful nature drives us to see things differently. Instead of seeing the love of God in Christ Jesus, many people only see the God of the Bible as one of hate and Law. This is due largely to the sinful condition we are all in that reacts scornfully against any attempts to curb its evil desires. But often it’s also because we as Christians abuse God’s Law. Instead of learning from Christ that He is the fulfillment of the Law and that the whole goal of the Law is love, we remake the Law in our own image. We turn the Law from a mirror that shows us all our sins and need for salvation, we take it and turn it into a set of rules that one must follow to be a good member of the church. The Law becomes a maze for human rats to follow to get cheese at the end. Thus, we fail to live in love.

Thankfully, our failure to live in love does not undo the fact that God is love. Scripture says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[4] But wait a second, I haven’t said anything about not loving God, right? But that’s exactly the point: our failure to live in love towards our neighbor is a failure to love God. Ever since the Fall our natural inclination is to love ourselves more than God and our neighbor. None of us by nature possesses the ability to truly love as love itself was created.

Our failure to love is what prompted God to send His only begotten Son. In this is love, not that we loved first, but that He first loved us and sent Christ to bear the guilt of our sin. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God bore our sins, our constant failure to love, in His body on the cross. He suffered the ultimate punishment for us. He died for you. God is love, even the perfect model of sacrificial love.

II.

St. John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”[5] What he means is that, if God has loved us so much as to look past the guilt of our constant sinning by sending His only Son to die for us, thus we also ought to love one another. The Bible says that as we abide in Christ and His Word, He abides in us and His love is perfected in us. The children learned this week in VBS that the main goal of the love of Christ that dwells within us is that we serve others and share the saving work of Jesus Christ with those in need.

If you’ve ever gone to a wedding, you’ve probably heard the familiar words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Maybe you had them at your own wedding. Paul writes of perfect love saying, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[6] This is a long description of the life to which all Christians have been called. But, if we’re honest, it doesn’t sound much like us. We might be able to check off a couple of the boxes here and there, but never are we able to live perfectly in the love that Christ has shown us and has called us to. At the bottom, all our problems are the result of our sinful failure to live in Christian love.

The theme verse for VBS this year is 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.” There’s two parts to that sentence: our love, and Christ’s love. We already know that more often than not, our love is poor or non-existent. We fail to serve others, we gossip and slander; we’re inactive and apathetic; instead of building others up, we puff ourselves up. But Jesus is none of those things. He is God, He is perfect love. He is patient and kind, bearing with us when we fail to love. He does not envy or boast. He is not arrogant or rude; He does not shame us when we sin. He is not irritable or resentful, but always willing to freely forgive.

Therefore, we love. We love because He first loved us. Christ knew our weaknesses and the punishment we deserve for our sinfulness. He knew that we, all too often, fail to love. And so, He loved us. He loved us even to the point of death, death on the cross. There He won for us the free forgiveness of all our sins. Now He freely gives us that forgiveness through the preaching of His Word, through the renewal of the Holy Baptism, and in the supper of His own Body and Blood. By these things we are strengthened for lives of service in love towards Him and one another. We love because He first loved us.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Jn. 4:19.

[2] 1 Jn 4:4.

[3] 1 Jn 4:7–10.

[4] 1 Jn 4:10.

[5] 1 Jn. 4:11.

[6] 1 Cor. 13:4–7.

Jesus Prays for Us

Text: John 17:11b-19

This week we return again to the night on which Jesus was betrayed. The last two weeks our Gospel readings were from John 15 where Jesus assured us that He is the vine and we are the branches. He promised that as we abide in Him and His Word, He abides in us and causes us to bear fruit. Bearing fruit is the work of the Holy Spirit, who leads us to speak the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people without partiality. However, Jesus names a solemn consequence of the work that the Triune God does among the body of believers. Jesus says to the Disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”[1]

It is on account of this reality that Jesus does one last thing before He departs for Gethsemane to be betrayed. Knowing that we who are kept in the Word of God by His grace will be hated by the world, Jesus prayed for us.

I.

Jesus knew that His departure was at hand. Soon He would be delivered into the hands of sinners; soon He would be given a mock trial, and crucified. We would expect Jesus’ main concern to Himself. After all, being crucified has to be one of the most painful ways to die. But, Jesus’ main concern is not for Himself. He prayed to the Father, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”[2]

Jesus’ chief concern is for those who remain in the world as He returns to the Father. He is returning to resume the glory He had in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit before all Creation. Part of that involved that the Disciples remain behind. We’ll get back to that in a little bit. Jesus’ prayer includes a request that God the Father keep the Disciples in His name, the name which Jesus shares, that they may be one. Jesus called the Disciples out of darkness into the Light by the confession of faith in the Triune God. While Jesus was with the Disciples He guarded and kept them in the name of God Most High. Despite the pot-shots and criticisms of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the derision of even their own families, Jesus guarded and protected the Disciples during their time together. Not one of them was lost, save Judas the betrayer, in order to fulfill Scripture.

II.

Christ’s work calling the Disciples and guarding them in the confession of the Truth bore fruit. It bore fruit in that already through the ministry of the Disciples many had been called to faith in Jesus. But it also bore fruit in another way. Jesus continues praying to the Father, “Now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”[3] Jesus has given the Disciples His Word, which has borne fruit in the world, and the world hates it. The world hates Jesus and persecutes those who believe in Him.

Jesus said that His followers should not be afraid if the world hates them, for so it hated him. He taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we should, “Rejoice and be glad,” when others revile us and persecute us and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely on His account, “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”[4] Just as Jesus is not of the world, so are we not of the world, and it hates us for it. Nevertheless, Jesus does not ask that the Disciples be taken out of the world, but that they be kept from the evil one. The devil seeks to devour and destroy the Truth of Jesus Christ. He tried to destroy the Apostles and early Christians through persecutions and trials. He is trying to do so today by infiltrating both society and the church. Satan influences the workings of the sinful nature to try and choke out saving faith in Jesus Christ not by denying forgiveness, but by denying sin. Therefore the world hates us. Jesus prays that we be kept from the evil one, which we echo in the Lord’s Prayer.

III.

Jumping ahead in Jesus’ prayer, He makes it clear that He is not just praying for the Disciples, but for us as well. He says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”[5] Jesus’ prayer to the Father for the Disciples and us is that God would sanctify us in the truth of His Word. For that reason, Jesus says, He consecrates Himself. This means that Jesus has set Himself apart; He has dedicated Himself to the work of God, namely His own death and resurrection, that we be sanctified in truth. To be sanctified means to be made holy. Jesus died as payment for our sins and rose from the dead so that we may be made holy through faith in His Word.

For what purpose have we been saved by grace and made holy by His Word? Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”[6] At His Ascension, Jesus instructed the Disciples to go to all nations, making other disciples by baptizing in the name of the Triune God and teaching them to observe all that Christ has taught them. For this purpose Jesus prayed for the Disciples and us: that we be kept in God’s Word and protected from the evil one, even as we are sent out into a world that hates our confession of faith in Jesus.

Today we returned to the night on which Jesus was betrayed. It was the same night He washed His disciples’ feet, giving them a new model of love. He also instituted the Lord’s Supper whereby He gives the forgiveness of sins. He would shortly be going to Gethsemane to be betrayed, suffer, and die for our sins. We would understand if Jesus took the opportunity to pray for Himself. We probably would at least get a quick one in if we were Him. But instead, He prays for His disciples.

As He goes to the Father by His death, resurrection, and ascension, the Disciples will remain behind. He has given them His Word, which has made them holy. The world hates the holiness that comes through faith in Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus didn’t pray that they be removed from the world, but that they be protected from the Devil. As Jesus was sent into the world to proclaim the Good News, so does He now send His Disciples and us. He sends us out into the world to preach the truth of His Work for us. Though the world hates our faith, Jesus will always be with us and will keep us in His Word.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn. 15:18–19.

[2] Jn. 17:11–12.

[3] Jn, 17:13–16.

[4] Matt. 5:11-12.

[5] Jn. 17:20.

[6] Jn. 17:18.

The Good Shepherd

Text: John 10:11-18

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep…I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”[1]

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, who alone is the Good Shepherd, thank You for all Your good benefits. Let the word of Your salvation dwell among us richly, and do not allow Your trusty staff, the Word of Your Promise, to be taken from us. When the shadow of death spreads over us, lead us safely to the fold of Your perfected saints in heaven. Amen.

In our text today Jesus makes a distinction between two types of shepherd: Himself, the Good Shepherd, and the hired hand. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and gets out in front to lay down His life for them. The hired hand, sees the wolf coming and gets behind the sheep. He allows the wolf to scatter and devour the sheep while he runs away. Instead of going before them, he allows the sheep to face death alone. Jesus our Good Shepherd is always with us. He is with us to protect you and comfort you at all times. In order to save us from the wolf, He laid down His own being on our behalf. He sacrificed Himself to the powers of death and hell and then rose from the dead. Therefore, He is now always before us. Our Good Shepherd has died and lives for the sheep so that we may die and live with Him.

I.

To teach people about Himself and His work, Jesus uses the imagery of a shepherd. The first way Jesus describes Himself is as the door of the sheep. The shepherd would take care of the sheep during the day and then at night lead them back into the fold. This would be either a fenced-in area or maybe a cave – somewhere with only one entrance. Like a good shepherd Jesus leads His sheep into the fold, He Himself being the door.

But there are those who do not enter through the door, who instead climb in by another way. That person is a thief and a robber, someone who has no right to the sheep. In the context of John 10 these thieves and robbers are the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities. Thieves and robbers try to break-in any way they can to steal the sheep. The Pharisees were thieves and robbers because they tried to get into the fold without going through the Door: Jesus. Instead of pointing people to faith in God’s Son, they tried to get into the fold in other ways, which don’t work. Jesus prophesied against them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”[2]

They were continuing a long line of false shepherds, which God prophesied against in Ezekiel 34. Surely Jesus had this text in mind which says, “Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep…but you do not feed the sheep.”[3] Therefore, God promises, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep.”[4]

Not only do thieves and robbers try to steal the sheep, but there is also a wolf seeking to devour them. The wolf is the devil. At best, the Jewish authorities were hired hands. They cared nothing for the sheep, they were only a means to an end. Therefore, when they saw the wolf coming, instead of getting out in front to protect the sheep, they fled and let the wolf have its way. But lest we become hypocrites, we also are like the hired hand. All sinners are. Instead of sacrificing ourselves, our own wants and desires, to care for those whom the Lord has given us to watch out for, we sacrifice them. We flee our responsibilities and leave God’s sheep to fend for themselves against the jaws of the devil.

Left to themselves, the sheep die. False teachers come and rob them of God’s grace in Christ, pointing them to their own works and worthiness instead. The devil comes and convinces them that diligent study of God’s Word in worship and Bible study is not necessary. Pastors who behave like hired hands look out only for themselves and leave Satan to sift their congregations like wheat through all sorts of trials and temptations. All of this is meant to kill and destroy the sheep.

II.

In response to the thieves and robbers who come to destroy, the raging wolf seeking to devour, and the hired hand who doesn’t care, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”[5] Jesus sees the wolf coming, He knows it’s coming, and as the Good Shepherd He lays down His life for the sheep. Instead of letting the wolf come and devour the sheep while He hides, He Himself takes on the wolf. He willingly goes to slaughter, to death, so that the sheep would live. Jesus laid down His life because He is the Paschal Lamb whose blood takes away the sin of the world. His blood satisfies the demands of the Law which say that the soul that sins shall die, that we should die for our sins. His holy, innocent, suffering and death redeems us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil.

Jesus also said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”[6] Our Good Shepherd who laid down His life to save the sheep rose again. He passed through death and the grave to take up His life again in resurrection. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear. We have a Good Shepherd who walked that same path. He has already been through it all, and just as He went before us in death, so does He go before us through this life and our own deaths, unto our resurrection to eternal life.

Now because Jesus is alive, the truth that we celebrate during this Easter season, He gathers His flock. Jesus is not just the Good Shepherd in His death, but in His life as well. He said, “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”[7] Jesus, who knows His sheep, gathers them all into one flock. He gathers them so that they may be united with Him in death and life.

The crucified and risen Lord Jesus continues to call His flock by name through the preaching of the Gospel. He feeds them the good food of the Sacraments in order that they may gathered into one flock through the washing of Holy Baptism and the forgiveness we receive in the Lord’s Supper. Through these things the flock are made hear the voice of the true shepherd, He who knows each of us by name and calls us into His fold. Jesus our Good Shepherd is not a thief or robber who comes to kill and destroy, but He is the Door by which we enter the fold of heaven. Neither is Jesus like a hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep. Jesus saw the wolf coming and laid down His life on the cross for us. For us, the sheep, the Shepherd died so that He might take up His life again to go before us all our days.


[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), John 10:11-13.

[2] Matt. 23:13.

[3] Ezek. 34:2–3.

[4] Ezek. 34:11–12.

[5] Jn. 10:11.

[6] Jn. 10:17-18.

[7] Jn. 10:14-15.

Opened to Understand

Text: Luke 24:36-49

Today we continue our celebration of the Good News of Easter. The Good News is that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. By His death and resurrection He has defeated the powers of sin, death, and the devil forever. By His suffering He won for us the free forgiveness of all our sins, and rising from the dead He has justified us. This week we hear the Good News from St. Luke’s account of the Resurrection and the events following it. Though it is similar to St. John’s account, St. Luke’s focus is a little different. From John we learned of the peace that comes through the Resurrection of Christ which is the forgiveness of our sins. This week we look at how the minds of the Disciples were opened through the words of Christ.

Even though the Disciples heard from Mary Magdalene and the other women Jesus had risen from the dead, they didn’t believe. Instead, they locked themselves away in fear for their lives and in disbelief. Peter had even seen the empty tomb, but he didn’t believe. Earlier in Luke 24 it says, “Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”[1] Peter saw the empty grave, the open tomb, and he didn’t believe. He didn’t believe because, though the tomb was open, his mind was closed. In our reading Jesus appeared to open minds to the Scriptures by showing it is all about Him. Jesus opened their eyes and minds of the Disciples, because His work is of no use to those with closed minds.

II.

The kind of open-mindedness that Jesus gave is very different from what our world thinks today when it values open-mindedness. The world thinks it knows all about what it means to be open-minded. If open-mindedness is what we need, then the world has it. To be open-minded is to be open to all kinds of thinking, all opinions, and all views. There is no one truth, just different interpretations and judgments that we should be open to. To be open-minded is to open your mind and let things fill it – all kinds of worldly wisdom and enlightened thinking; newly-discovered truth. You only need to turn on the TV or radio to discover what it means to be open-minded. It means to accept and affirm adulterous relationships, saying that marriage is not a pre-requisite for sexual activity. But then again, marriage itself is to be redefined. To be open-minded is to accept and encourage alternative definitions of marriage than what has been understood by all of human history until recent times.

It’s funny how almost all of the definitions of “open-minded,” that the world has to offer paint the Scriptural teaching as “close-minded.” That notion has led no small number of Christians into confusion and doubt. Instead of our minds being opened, they become a cesspool of ideas all mixing and fermenting together. Enticed by the world that offers to open minds, many are led into confusion over what the true teaching of Scripture is. And eventually, this leads to doubt and contempt for God’s Word. This should sound familiar, for it was Satan who first asked, “Did God really say?” in the Garden of Eden.[2]

III.

And so, instead of opening minds the world closes them. Jesus’ open tomb is folly to minds closed by the world, closed to the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus. Not content to leave His Disciples with minds closed by the world, minds callous to His word, Jesus appears to open their minds. This He does by removing all the junk put in there by the world and replacing it with His Word. The text says, “Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.  And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’”[3]

Jesus appeared among them and their first thoughts weren’t to rejoice, but to wonder if they were seeing a spirit. Their minds were still full of junk. Jesus asked them why they were troubled and why doubts arise in their hearts, for it is He Himself. This is the Jesus who was with them for three years, who was betrayed, suffered, died, and now who has risen from the dead. He has hands and feet that they can touch, which a spirit doesn’t. Moreover, Jesus asked for something to eat. They gave Him a piece of fish, and He ate. But the cobwebs weren’t cleared yet.

Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”[4] Then their minds were opened to understand the Scriptures. Jesus continued to show them that it has always been written in the Scripture that Jesus would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. Then, because of His suffering and death for the sins of the world, repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in His name to all nations. This is what it has all been about, the forgiveness of sins. It’s not about anything else, and to center on anything else is to be close-minded. To be open-minded is to be centered on the grace that we receive through the work of Christ on our behalf. JUST AS JESUS OPENED THE TOMB, SO ALSO HE OPENS NOW OUR MINDS.

IV.

Even today He does this. Through the washing of Holy Baptism the risen Christ opens the tombs of our minds. Tombs are ordinarily filled with death, but instead He fills us with His life. He fills us with His truth by making us children of God as we heard in the Epistle reading. The Holy Spirit works through the washing of Baptism to wash away our sins and give us the gift of faith. By faith the Scriptures are opened to us so that we understand that it is all about Jesus. In Baptism God shows His incredible love for us by welcoming us into His arms.

Through the preaching of God’s Word, Jesus continues to beat back all the cobwebs of the world that threaten to close our minds to the truth of Scripture. These cobwebs want us to deny that His Word is true, that it is without any error whatsoever, that sin exists and we are dead in it, and that we cannot do anything to save ourselves. But Christ, who rose triumphant from the grave by His power and left the tomb open will continue to work through His Means of Grace to open our minds to His love.

V.

This isn’t to say that all worldly wisdom is bad. God has blessed many people in our world all across time with great minds and intelligence, and through their work and vocations, we have received many great things from God – advances in medicine, technology, and communication. We thank God for all of that. But, with the good has also come the bad. There’s all sorts of false wisdom and truth in this world.

We have a different wisdom that fills our minds. After Christ spoke peace to the Disciples, forgiving their sins and opening their minds, He sent them out to proclaim to the world the forgiveness of sins that is in Him. He breathed on them the Holy Spirit to preach His Word which shows our sinfulness and need for a Savior. As Christ forgave the Disciples, so He forgives you and gives you peace. He fills you here with His Body and Blood and with the Holy Spirit. With His forgiveness, His Life, and His Word, the Holy Spirit works now through you to speak and share that Word, so that hearts and minds may be opened in those around you until the open gates of heaven.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 24:12.

[2] Gen. 3:1.

[3] Lk. 24:36–39.

[4] Lk. 24:44–45.